“Be out of here by three, hashtag hometime,” quipped Scott Bartley, a clueless, loudmouth boss and one of the stars of Kenya's first mockumentary “The Samaritans,” in the show’s trailer.
The witty online comedy satirizes NGO culture with "Aid for Aid," an NGO with an absurdly ambiguous name and no clear cause. With scenes like the country director focusing his energy on finding the right acronym to win a grant proposal or staff sipping wine on a busy afternoon for relief work, the show certainly makes a statement, however exaggerated.
But Hussein Kurji, one of the show’s creators, tells Devex he didn’t set out to critique or offend the sensitivities that Africa faces, but to create an entertaining show to introduce an unfamiliar world to a new audience.
And a few months after its launch, reaction has been “stellar,” he said. Devex caught up with Kurji to find out what’s next for Scott and the rest of Aid for Aid crew.
Have you received much reaction — positive or negative — from NGOs or local aid workers?
The reaction so far has been stellar. There are going to be pockets of negativity, but they are minute compared to the overall positive feedback we have received. At the end of the day, people are drawn to the characters and the comedic elements of the situations the characters get themselves into. People recognize that it is a fictitious comedy.
Where do you draw inspiration for each episode? Do you have a stockpile of stories or clichés you’re drawing on to create the show, or do you have people continually sending you ideas?
We have had both; we actively encourage people to send in their stories through our website and they have been doing so. Inspiration comes from various office politics that we have all encountered and we are also inspired by the characters we have created and their natural progression through their story arcs.
In reference to your comment: “I think it kind of dawned on me when I was working at a five-star hotel here in Nairobi a few years ago that NGOs aren’t always what they seem. All these guys were gathered around eating lobster bisque and discussing how to reduce poverty. Something didn’t seem right.” Do you hope the show drives serious talk about some of these perceptions? Has it already?
We did the series as a way to tell a story that has not been told before through the lens of comedy. As entertainers, it is our job to primarily focus on storytelling. Indeed we knew this would spark conversation and as the series continues we understand conversations may continue. As long as the discussions are healthy and enable people to ask the right questions then we think that is fair enough.
Why do you feel comedy is an appropriate way to critique such issues? And why now?
We did not set out to critique, we set out to create. To create an entertaining series and introduce an unfamiliar world to a new audience. Some of the stories we heard were ripe for comedy, however this is not a new topic. This has been discussed many times over the last few decades. We just approached that same story but through comedy.
How do we do it? Through characters that people want to tune in to every week. Without engaging characters, we would not have a watchable series. We have managed to do this and hope to be able to continue for a few more seasons.
You referenced an email you got from someone in Afghanistan that said, “We don’t have a Scott in our office but we have an NGO just next door who has a Scott in their office” — so it seems a lot of people are identifying with the characters.
The trailers that we have released as well as the pilot episodes we have made available for rent have been received well and many times we hear one character or the other being sighted as familiar, albeit in an exaggerated manner, but familiar nonetheless. People seem to understand and laugh at the aspects they recognize.
What stereotypical aid worker is still missing from the show, if any? And what’s next for Scott? Is there any other NGO storyline you’re excited to lend some comedy to in a future episode?
We can't give away any spoilers, but we have a range of workers and stories that we are exploring. As for Scott, you'll have to tune in to find out what we have in store for him. … We put him through a lot, but he's a champion, albeit a silly one, but a champion nonetheless.
There are several other stories yet to explore. Season one focuses on the characters and the way they handle the largest grant application they’ve ever faced. Poor fellows, the pressure is way too much for most of them.
How do you see the show evolving? Are there other, broader issues in international development you plan to touch on?
Each character has a story arc and evolves at a different pace. We might gain some new characters, while others might depart. As for broader issues we might explore, if it fits well with the characters natural arc then we will certainly explore them, be it international development or other social and human rights issues.
Just like an NGO, we have to raise the rest of the finances for the series. As soon as we have our budgets and international distributors or networks pick it up, we will continue to create more.
What do you think of “The Samaritans?” Leave your comments below.